Harris in pledge on domestic violence

Harris in pledge on domestic violence
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris with domestic violence survivors Jessica Bowes and Norah Casey at the Rotunda Hospital at the launch of Femicide Watch Report 2018 (Republic of Ireland). Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Gardaí are to adopt a risk assessment tool to help them identify women most in danger from domestic violence and put together security and social supports to protect them.

The tool, currently being piloted in two divisions, is to be evaluated by Trinity College Dublin with the intention of rolling it out nationally by the end of the year.

It is one of a number of measures Garda Commissioner Drew Harris pledged to implement to tackle domestic violence-related injuries and murders after figures were released showing more than half of women who die violently in Ireland are killed by their current or former husband or partner.

The Women’s Aid Femicide Watch report for 2018 shows 225 women have died violently here since 1996, including seven to date this year, while 16 children were also killed alongside their mothers.


In 56% of cases, the perpetrator was an intimate partner of the victim, while an additional 11% of victims were killed by a male relative and a further 20% by a man known to them.

Mr Harris told the report’s launch event that the new risk assessment tool, devised with the help of police in Sweden, New York, Northern Ireland, and England, was designed to be easily usable “at 2am on a Saturday morning”.

He said it identifies “victims most at risk and the most high-risk perpetrators” and establishes “the risk posed and what our support can be together with multi-agency supports”.

Protective Services Units, currently in place in four divisions, would be in six more by the end of the year and in all divisions by the end of next year, he said, and this would give extra support to local officers and raise the standard of their approach to domestic violence.


He also said training is underway on evidence-gathering in preparation for the newly created offence of coercive control and a public information campaign would tell victims and the wider public how to get help and assist investigations.

“We need to ensure that we respond effectively and efficiently but also with empathy and professionalism to domestic violence incidents and I am determined in this regard that we will improve our service,” he said.

The service that we improve makes a difference in terms of preventing really serious crimes, up to and including femicide and the murder of children, and what more important work have I or any of the staff under my control to do?

Women’s Aid is calling for domestic homicide reviews (DHRs) to be carried out jointly by Gardaí and other support agencies after every femicide to look at the background and identify patterns that may assist in devising preventative strategies.


Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said she completely supported the idea but Mr Harris said legislation may be needed.

“We need to be clear about what a DHR would concentrate upon and how agencies co-operate and share information,” he said.

“There is a lot of nervousness around data protection. In some ways, it’s misplaced because we have an obligation to share information if it will save lives.”

Women’s Aid’s 24-hour help-line is 1800 341 900.

The Survivor

It was Christmas Eve 2015 when Jessica Bowes had reconstructive surgery on some of the multiple facial fractures her ex-partner had inflicted on her but she checked herself out of hospital as soon as she came round so she could be home with her children for Santa.

Days earlier she had come home from her work party to find her ex, once again ignoring her barring order, waiting for her.

He smashed the taxi windscreen, assaulted the driver, punched Jessica so hard hit the ground, and continued to hit and kick her until her skull, both eye sockets, her nose and cheekbone were fractured.

Harris in pledge on domestic violence

Jessica Bowes

"I told him he was going to kill me," she says.

Her fears were justified for it had been coming a long time - long after she'd lost count of the attacks on her, long after she'd stopped involving her family because of his threats to harm them, long after she'd given up pleading for gardaí to arrest him.

Somehow, she got to her neighbours' house.

"Only for they let me in I believe he would have killed me that night," she says.

Her ex was arrested that night, and later jailed, but he got bail before then on the grounds that he would go to a residential addiction treatment centre - from which he was free to leave at night and free to turn up at her door again, which he did.

Jessica is campaigning for, among other things, risk assessments for domestic abuse victims, changes to bail conditions, better garda responses and therapy for women and children left traumatised by abuse.

The Bereaved

Next month marks 10 years since Chris and Susanna Cawley lost their beloved sister Celine and seven years since they lost the battle to stop the man who killed her, her husband, asserting his inheritance rights over the family home.

They did secure a partial victory in that he was only awarded his half-share of the once jointly owned home - he had wanted it all for himself with no regard for his grieving daughter - but that battle, against an outdated Succession Act deemed flawed by the High Court judge who ruled against them, cost €187,000 in legal fees.

Harris in pledge on domestic violence

Suzanna and Chris Cawley

By contrast, when they went to France to stop him inheriting the house he and Celine also owned there, the French legal system charged €16,000 and transferred the house wholly into Celine's estate for her daughter.

Despite their years of campaigning, a bill to change the Succession Act to prevent killers benefitting from the legacy of those they kill, is only now going through the Oireachtas.

"How is it that private citizens, who are already trying to process the distress and sadness of their sister's homicide, must take on such an onerous role in trying to get the State to respond to what is so manifestly in the interest of the common good and principles of social justice?" they ask.

With 59% of femicides in Ireland carried out by the victim's husband or partner and 95% of family homes jointly owned, they want the bill passed urgently.

"We do not want any more families to go through what we experienced."